Table of Contents
Part II: Flood Traditions
A Selection of Illustrations
MY PURPOSE in
this chapter is not to write a cursive discourse, but to take
the above main points and give some indication regarding the
way in which specific illustrations are to be found in traditions
from different areas.
1. Moral cause.
1 of 10
In one of the Indian traditions,
the seventh king of the Hindus is Satyavrata, a man who reigned
in Dravira, a "country washed by the waves of the sea".
During his reign, an evil demon named Hayagriva furtively appropriated
to himself the Holy Books (i.e., the Vedas) which the first Manu
had received from Brahman; the consequence was that the whole
human race sank into a fearful degeneracy with the exception
of seven "saints" and the virtuous king himself.
The story tells how the divine
spirit Vishnu appeared to him in the shape of a fish and said,
"In seven days all the creatures which have offended against
me shall be destroyed by a deluge. Thou alone shalt be saved
in a capacious vessel. . . ." After seven days, incessant
torrents of rain descended and ocean waves climbed beyond their
The idea essential to the moral
cause in this story is that in the absence of the "Word
of God" the human race sank into fearful degeneracy. Kalisch,
who gives these details, says that the descendants of the first
man of the new race, Manu, were collectively referred to as Manudsha
(i.e., "born of Manu"), a form which he equates
with Mensch. (35) I think it is worth noting
that Manu is said to have had three sons, their names being given
as Sharma, C'harma, and Jyapeti: rather clearly being corruptions
of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (36) According to Urquhart, Manu was the Indian "Noah's"
name, where Satyavrata was a title, the component Satya
meaning "the righteous one."
In the Greek story, Noah is called
In this account, according to Apollodorus, Zeus was provoked
into sending the deluge either because of the "enormous
iniquity with which the earth was contaminated by the then existing
brazen race of men" or due to the existence of "the
fifty monstrous sons of Sykoron."
I think it is safe to say that
the nearer a people is geographically to the site of the landing
of the ark, the more truly do they speak of the cause of the
Flood as being man's moral corruption. As one gets further away
into more distant parts of the world, the cause of the Flood
becomes less and less a question of morals but more and more
a question of bad behaviour -- i.e., social misconduct,
like the fisherman whose hook caught in the hair of the god -- or
simply arbitrary annoyance on the part of the gods with behaviour
which the condemned were not even aware was improper. It is curious
that in many of the accounts the cause is partly attributed to
the misconduct of giants, which seems to be a recollection of
2. One man warned.
This does not need specific illustration.
Either a god or an animal simply gives one man advanced notice.
On this they all agree.
3. The survivors as progenitors of the
present world population.
There are no exceptions among the
150 or so traditions currently known. The Flood is always considered
to have wiped out all mankind except those specially warned.
Where only one man survived, as we have seen, special steps were
taken to generate a new race
In the Greek story, Deukalion and
his wife Pyrrha re-peopled the earth, not by natural procreation,
but by casting stones behind them as instructed by Zeus, these
stones then becoming people. This feature of the story is generally
taken to have originated as a consequence of the similarity between
the Greek word for "stone" and
35. Kalisch, M. M., ref.26, p.203.
36. Titcomb, J. H., ref.4, p.251.
37. Wardour, Lord Arundell, ref.7, p.225.
It is as though the original story said that peoples sprang
up behind them, whereas in time it began to be reported that
pebbles sprang up behind them. Someone later on tried
to reconcile the two stories by saying that pebbles became people.
Lenormant reports that the Tamanakis,
a Carib tribe on the banks of the Orinoco, are credited with
a Flood legend which says that a man and a woman alone escaped
by climbing to the summit of Mount Tapanacu. (38)
There they are said to have thrown behind
them, over their heads, some coconuts from which issued a new
race of men. The parallelism is curious. It is not found in any
other stories to my knowledge. Perhaps it is a case of borrowing.
4. The part played by animals
As we have seen, a fish warned
Manu in the Indian story and an eagle gave warning in the Ancasmarca
story. (39) In
another Peruvian story, it is a llama that gives the warning.
(40) The Cherokees
say the warning was given by a dog. (41)
Soviet seismologists have undertaken
a program of research to improve present earthquake prediction
methods by studying the natural warning systems that many animals
appear to possess. (42)
It is interesting to note that fish in particular are believed
to have a mechanism ten times more sensitive to seismic changes
than the best man-made equipment. Dr. Protasov, head of the Hydrobionics
Group at the Institute of Evolutionary Morphology and Animal
Ecology, in collaboration with the Geophysical Institute, has
already improved seismic receivers on the basis of fish studies.
But other animals may prove equally informative. For example,
in Tashkent there was a mass migration of ants carrying their
eggs about an hour before the first tremors of the 1966 earthquake.
The Soviet scientists are hoping to discover the actual mechanism
by which animals are able to forecast natural disasters.
After the Flood had destroyed mankind
and "Noah" alone was left, he attempted to find out
the state of things by determining the depth of water. Various
animals were called into service. The Crees of Manitoba say
38. Lenormant, Francois, ref.27, p.478.
39. Frazer, J. G., ref.2, p.270.
40. Genesis in the Light of Modern Knowledge (author,
publisher, date unknown), p.436.
41. Lenormant, Francois, ref.27, p.477.
42. News item in New Scientist, 27 March, 1969, p.672.
that several waterfowl
were sent to dive to the bottom but they all drowned. Then a
muskrat, having been dispatched on the same errand, succeeded
in bringing up a mouthful of mud. (43) The Ojibway seem to have the same idea except that
they specified a loon made the first attempt. "Noah,"
given the name Menaboshu, is reported to have said to the loon
which was swimming on the water, "Brother loon, do me a
favor, and dive down deep and see if you can find the earth,
without which I cannot live." The loon was not successful.
Later on, Menaboshu found a muskrat stiff with cold and almost
dead. This he fished out of the water, warmed with his breath,
and brought back to life. He then said, "Little brother
rat, neither of us can live without the earth. Dive into the
water and, if you can find it, bring me some earth. If it is
only three grains of sand I shall be able to make something out
of them." The obliging animal dived immediately and after
a long time reappeared. But it was dead and floated on the water.
Menaboshu took it up and discovered in one of its little paws
a couple of grains of sand. He blew these into the water and
each became at first a little island which afterward united and
grew into land.
It seems to me difficult to suppose
that such details so graphically telling the great depth of the
Flood could possibly have been borrowed from a missionary's account
of the biblical story. I do not know of one native tradition
which reflects the matter-of-fact way in which the depth of water
is indicated in Scripture. These accounts remember the event
but enjoy none of the factual sobriety which is to be found in
Noah's logbook account.
5. The "ark" grounds locally.
With the exception of the biblical
account, this is virtually universal. The Andaman Islanders say
that Noah landed near a place called Wotaemi; (44) the people of Sumatra say the ark landed on Mount
Marapi; (45) the
Fijians on Mount Mbenga; (46) the Greeks either on Mount Parnassus or Mount Othrys;
(47) the Tamanakis
(a Carib tribe on the banks of the Orinoco) on Mount Tapanacu;
(48) the Mexicans
on Mount Colhuacan; (49)
43. Nelson, Byron, ref.4, p.184.
44. Genesis in the Light of Modern Knowledge, ref.40,
45. Nelson, Byron, ref.4, p.190.
46. Urquhart, John, ref.13, p.270.
47. Wardour, Lord Arundell, ref.7, p.25.
48. Lenormant, Francois, ref.27, p.478.
49. Genesis in the Light of Modern Knowledge, ref.40,
Yuin (Australian aborigines)
on Mount Dromedary; (50)
the northern Maidu (southwestern United States) on Keddie Peak
in the Sacramento Valley; (51) and so it goes.
6. Eight souls were saved.
There is considerable doubt
whether the recurrence of the number eight has much significance,
with the possible exception of the story of Manu and the seven
"saints." According to both Paterson (52) and Cook, (53) the Chinese so-called Flood story speaks of eight
souls surviving. The Druids also mention eight survivors, though
their "Flood" story bears the least resemblance to
the biblical account of all the stories I have come across. (54) The Fijian story implies
more than eight survivors, since it speaks of two canoes passing
by just at the right time and picking up the only eight people
still alive in the water. (55) But presumably someone was paddling each of the canoes,
one of the pilots being the "god of carpenters." This
might be a memorial of the fact that Noah must have been no mean
carpenter himself. There is also a Peruvian account, supposed
to have been related to the first Spanish settlers, in which
seven persons are mentioned. (56) It seems to me a little unlikely that the exact number
of survivors would be recalled so accurately. However, it is
not impossible, and Urquhart mentions a story also from Malay
in which there were eight survivors, a story which he thinks
has not been borrowed.
7. Graphic detail.
I think it inevitable that
any good storyteller who has witnessed any great flood would
be apt to embellish the account in the telling of it. Such details
as those mentioned in chapter 1 are, after all, what one would
really expect in a catastrophe of these proportions. They are
not unique aspects of the event and therefore probably have no
50. Goldenweiser, Alexander, Anthropology,
Crofts, New York, 1945, p.227.
51. Coon, C. S., ref.11, p.281.
52. Paterson, H. Sinclair, ref.12, p.296; and E. McCrady, ref.12,
53. Cook, F. C, ref.6, p.75.
54. McCrady, E., ref.12, p.68.
55. Eells, M., "The Worship and Traditions of the Aborigines
of the Islands of the Pacific Ocean" in Transactions
of the Victorian Institute, vol. 32, 1898, p.68.
56. Titcomb, J. H., ref.4, p.236.
8. The question of
The really crucial point here is not
whether native tradition borrowed (via missionaries) from the biblical
account, but rather whether the biblical record is itself only a copy
of one of the Cuneiform accounts. As noted in chapter 1, there are good
reasons for giving the biblical account priority because of the very simplicity
of it. It is a well-established fact that oft-repeated stories always
grow in length, each recorder adding something of his own invention. The
Cuneiform accounts are consistently much more elaborate than the terms
of the biblical account. Brown, Driver, and Briggs note that the word
for ark is
which signifies "a chest" rather than a vessel. Moreover, there
is no mention of a launching, nor of "sea," nor of navigation,
nor of a pilot. In the Cuneiform accounts everything seems to indicate
a maritime people, a people dwelling on the shores of the Persian Gulf -- not
a highland people living in Armenia.
9. The element of fantasy.
Some Collections of Flood Stories
As in all other traditions of antiquity,
the element of fantasy is so common to Flood stories that were
it not for the four basic elements which are almost universally
to be found incorporated in them, the great majority of them
would immediately be dismissed as local creations without any
basis in historical fact. It is part of their charm that the
utterly impossible is treated as though it were quite in accord
with common experience. Animals speak, mountains rise with the
water, the gods are as frightened as people, miracles abound,
and the world is re-peopled by entirely supernatural methods.
Against this world-wide background
of confused record, the account in Genesis stands in marked contrast
as a sane, sensible, and entirely credible event, the only exceptional
aspect being the uncertainty as to the meaning of its hyperbole.
list of sources provides a means whereby the reader particularly
interested in some area of the world can find what stories are
known among the people in that locality.
The most readily accessible, and
probably the most complete listing, will be found in Sir James
G. Frazer's Folklore in the Old Testament (Macmillan,
London, 1919, vol.1, pp.146-330). The following tabulation shows
the range of these accounts.
Bilo (C. India)
Kamars (C. India)
Lepcha and Tibetan
Singphos, Lushais, Assam
Cashmere (or Kashmir)
Bahnars (Cochin China)
Bannavs (Cochin China)
Benna Jakim ( Malay)
Lolos (S. China)
(Yellow River flooding)
Natives of Nias (Sumatra)
Natives of Engano (Sumattra)
Dyaks of Borneo
Ot-Danoms (Dutch Borneo)
Alfoors of Ceram
Natives of Roth (Timor)
Natives of East India Island
Natives of Flores Island
Wild tribe of Formosa
Ami (Formosa), 3 stories
Kurnai, Victoria, Australia
Lake Tyers, Victoria, Australia
Natives of Queensland
Natives of New Guinea
Natives of Namberano
(Dutch New Guinea)
Natives of Melanesia
Polynesia and Micronesia
Leeward Islands (Tahiti)
Hervey Islands (Mangaia)
Nanumangan (Hudson's Island)
Indians of Brazil
Cape Frio Indians
Coroados (S. Brazil)
Caragas (S. Brazil)
Ipurina Tribe (Upper Amazon)
River Purus Indians
Ackwois (British Guiana)
Arawaks (British Guiana)
Macusis (British Guiana)
Chiriguanos of Bolivia
Terra del Fuegians
Panama and Nicaragua
Mexican (Codex Chimalpopoca)
Popol Nuh story
Huichol indians (Mexico)
Cora Indians (Mexico)
Zuni (New Mexieo)
South River Indians (California)
Ashochimi Indians (California) Maidu Indians (California)
Natchez (Lower Mississippi)
Dogrib and Slave Indians
Tinneh Indians (many stories)
Tlingit (NW Coast)
Haida (NW Canada)
Tsimshian (NW Canada)
Bella Coola (Canada)
Kwakiutl (NW Canada)
Lilluet (NW Canada)
Thompson (NW Canada)
Kootenay (NW Canada)
Indians of Washington State
Cascade Mountain Indians
Nez Perces and Cayuses Indians
Kathlamet Indians (Lower Columbia
Basuto tribes (borrowed)
of some eighty-eight Flood stories will be found in Richard Andree,
Die Flutsagen Ethnographisch Hetrachtet, published in
1891. Of these, the author considers that sixty-two or more show
no evidence of borrowing. His list includes the Greek traditions
according to Strabo, Pausanias, Apollodorus, Pindar, and Ovid.
Stories are also included from Locris, Agros, Cicily, Delphi,
Megara, Thessaly, Dodona, Cos, Rhodes, Crete, Samothrace, and
Arcadia. Stories are also given from among the Goths and other
Indo-Germanic peoples, from Lithuania, from Hungary, from the
Ural Mountains, from Central Asia (Mongol tribes), from Turkestan,
Afghanistan, Bokhara, East India, Kashmir, Tibet, Burma, Cambodia,
the Malay Peninsula, Kamchatka, from North and South America
in general, from Mexico, from Guatemala, Peru, Chile, Haiti,
British Guiana, Brazil, Borneo, the Sandwich Islands, the Marquesas,
the Society Islands, Fiji, New Guinea, the New Hebrides, and
the Andaman Islands.
In his well-known work, The
Beginnings of History (Scribner, New York, 1891, translated
from the French with an introduction by Francis Brown), Francois
Lenormant has a long section dealing with Flood traditions, pages
328-488. He opens his survey by discussing the Chinese so-called
Flood traditions which he believes are fundamentally a record
of an entirely local event. He then considers in some detail
the Babylonian accounts which were known at that time, giving
his reasons for viewing the biblical account as borrowed. From
page 420 on, he deals with the Indian, Persian, Greek, Phrygian,
Celtic, Scandinavian, Egyptian, Mongol, Mexican, Guatemalan,
Micuragan, Cherokee, Carib, Aleutian, Chippewan, Mandan, and
Tahitian accounts. Lenormant's work is likely to be even more
accessible than the two already mentioned, Frazer's and Andree's.
In his book, In Defence
of the Earlier Scriptures, H. Sinclair Paterson has a useful
appendix (pp. 283-313)
in which will be found further details of Flood traditions from
the following: the Welsh, Scandinavian, Dog-Rib, Caddoque and
Cherokee Indians, the Chinese, Mexican, and Fijian traditions.
The Assyrian account is treated more fully, and the Hindu story
is given in full (pp. 288-96).
John Urquhart has a useful treatment
of the subject in his New Biblical Guide (vol.1, pp. 256-97),
including references to many traditions mentioned in the previous
lists, to which he has added the text in full of a tradition
from the Lenni Lenape Indians (p. 264). He records also a tradition
of the Malays, the Voguls, and the Persian
account in some detail.
Part of the text of Hesiod's account is given and also Ovid's.
The Flood story which was discovered by George Smith is translated
in full and compared in some detail with the biblical account
(Marshall Bros., London, n.d., in 8 vols., long out of print).
Byron C. Nelson,
The Deluge Story in Stone (Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1931),
has a useful section on pages 170-90 dealing with the Assyrio-Babylonian
legends, a Persian legend from the Zend Avesta, a Greek account
from Syria (that of Lucian), the Apamaean Phrygian story, a Greek
account from the Odes of Pindar, an Egyptian account referred
to by Maspero, Ovid's account in full, the Lithuanian account,
the Welsh, Lapp, and Vogul accounts, a possible Norwegian tradition
known as "The Vala's Prophecy," a reference to a Chinese
account that may be borrowed, the Indian legend from the Rig-Veda.
He gives also a number of North American stories which include
those usually referred to, but in addition an Eskimo story and
a story from the Tlingit of the northwest coast of Canada. Several
stories are given from Central and South America and from the
J. H. Titcomb, in a paper
entitled "Ethnic Testimonies to the Pentateuch" (Transactions
of the Victoria Institute, London, vol. VI, 1872, pp. 234-71),
has a very useful treatment of the subject including a Chinese
account (p. 238) which I have not seen elsewhere, and some details
of the Hindu account, a Greek account from Thessaly, an Icelandic
account, and full details of the rather uncertain Druid account.
Alfred M. Rehwinkel
has a most useful section on Flood traditions on pages 127-152
in his book, The Flood (Concordia, St. Louis, 1951). Here
will be found sections quoted in full from the traditions of
a number of American Indian tribes (Tamanacs, Athapascans, Pepago,
Arapaho, Algonquins), some details from the Mexican Flood tradition,
and a story from the Sudan. The Dyaks of Borneo and the Battaks
of Sumatra are referred to, as well as some other Polynesian
and Micronesian accounts. Page 144 has a reference by Manetho
to an Egyptian tradition; the next page, Plato's account with
reference to the Island of Atlantis. A substantial portion of
Ovid's account of Creation and the Deluge is given on pages 147-51.
This is followed in chapter 10 by the Babylonian Flood account
which is translated on pages 155-61.
Hastings, in the five-volume Dictionary of the Bible which
bears his name, includes an article by F. H. Woods under the
heading "Flood." It is unfortunate that this dictionary
(the 1904 edition) tends to be marred by unquestioning acceptance
of the Higher Criticism. Nevertheless, the article, though irritating
to an evangelical, contains much interesting information, particularly
those sections which deal with alternative judgments apart from
drowning that accompanied the Flood in some accounts, with the
numbers of people or types of creatures which alone survived
in other accounts, the methods by which escape was effected,
and how the world was re-peopled. Most of the stories to which
reference is made appear to be derived from Andree's work. The
article is useful but has to be read with a critical eye.
The fullest summary in readily
accessible form of all the Cuneiform Flood stories from Mesopotamia
will be found in almost any edition of George Barton's Archaeology
and the Bible, published by the American Sunday School Union
(Philadelphia). Abbreviated details will be found, of course,
in Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, such as International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Popular and Critical Bible
Encyclopedia, and Imperial Bible Encyclopedia. Many
commentaries on Genesis, especially those published in decades
near the turn of the century, have useful though brief collections
of Flood traditions.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All
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